After a decade as CEO of Black Entertainment Television, (BET), and several years prior as its Chief Operating Officer, Debra Lee, the iconic media mogul has penned a new memoir, “I Am Debra Lee”.
The captivating memoir recounts her time at the cable network, showcasing both the attractive and unpleasant moments of being a dominant executive and Black woman in the entertainment industry.
Lee recently visited our Real Times Media studios to provide insight on her life in the business and words of encouragement for other women CEOs. Lee had spent 13 years as the network’s CEO, 10 years as COO, and had previously served as the company’s General Counsel.
“I decided with the end of my career at BET, that would be a good time to tell that story, Lee said, as she alluded to the small number of Black women in executive roles across corporate America.
In her memoir, Lee encourages young Black women to have the confidence to strive for leadership roles and to hear her story. Lee’s climb to the corporate media ladder was glass-shattering, a climb which came with pioneering original television programming such as numerous BET sitcoms and award show.
The height of Lee’s success also came with challenges as she clearly points out in the new book.
“I had issues managing men,” she recalls. “I had to learn my management style and how to really get a team to support me because when I first became COO, I inherited a team from Bob Johnson and they weren’t all invested in my success.”
Bob Johnson is the co-founder of BET. Lee and Johnson worked closely together over the years at the cable network. It was a work relationship what would become later become more intimate and personal while both were married to their partners. The workplace and power dynamics became extremely challenging for Lee as she tells in her memoir.
“For a longtime it was mentor and mentee and then it turned into a personal relationship which turned into an abusive relationship, and harassment and then all of a sudden my career was tied to my relationship with Bob.”
Lee found comfort in being more open to share her experiences as a result of the “Me-too” era. An inflection point in American history and society as women publicly began to call out men who used their power in media and in the workplace to abuse, harass or sexually assault women.
“It definitely gave me confidence and strength. There was a little bit of PTSD attached to it. I was saying, ‘Oh my God, this is what I went through.’ Because there wasn’t a name for it when I went through it and who do I talk to?”
Following her retirement from BET, Lee is keeping it moving. She has joined four corporate boards, and even founded, The Monarchs Collective, a full-service talent pool for company’s seeking to diversify their organizations while helping to increase the pipeline of Black women on corporate boards.
“It’s not like I stopped,” Lee adds. “I’ve still been building and purposeful about what I do and I just thought is was time and a good idea to write my story and hopefully inspire young girls and boys to dream to big and go after what they want.”
From wanting to be a journalist, to aspiring to be the next Diana Ross, and even a fashion designer, the media mogul is more open than she’s ever been before.
“I think the more those of us who have been successful tell our story, the more inspiration it will be for Black women.”